I have been traveling across Europe for the better part of two weeks. The first week was all work, packing up the cellar of Wolfgang Grunewald in scenic Switzerland. While we probably should have spent seven or eight days on the job inspecting and packing the some-odd 800 cases for shipment, we managed to jam it into five days in true Acker fashion, including a couple of 2-3am nights. It was well worth it; it was a thrilling cellar to inspect, and it should be the most significant sale of the entire market’s Fall season.
Wolfgang, a healthy and vigorous 78-year old whose passion for life is as great as it’s ever been, has been collecting wines for over thirty years, much of it with his dear friend Bipin Desai. Together they sought after the best of the best for decades, not only for their collections, but also to experience. It was an epic journey of tastings and dinners throughout America and Europe, leaving a trail of thousands of empty bottles behind, one that still continues to this day. Of course, we tasted a few things during that week with Wolf, but I will get to that soon enough, as I will more about Wolf and his cellar. Suffice it to say for now that it is one of the last great and grand collections of the 20th century, a testament not only to the man himself, but also to a golden era of discovery for those passionate about the grape.
So we finished up on the 12th, but there was a significant tasting of 1947s the following Friday, again in Switzerland, so I figured it was finally a good time to take a long, overdue trip to Burgundy in between. The Don, Doug, Brian, the Rock and the Burghound were all already there, or scheduled to be there, so it was as good a time as any to be there myself for the first time since I was a child. I had been meaning to come to Burgundy for a long time, but never quite seemed to make it. I can safely say, after spending a few days nestled away in beautiful Beaune, that I will be back very soon. Beaune is an amazing little ‘ville,’ with a neighborly, Old World feel, where life centers around wine, lunch and dinner. Sounds like paradise, right? Well, it was to me, and I highly recommend a trip to Beaune if you ever want to get lost in the countryside, or under the dinner table, for a few days, which is exactly what I did.
I basically came to decompress. There were a couple of significant appointments that I was able to make, but for the most part, the week was recovering from the strenuous week prior, and catching up on a lot of paperwork as well. Lunch and dinner were significant parts of the day, none more significant than the dinner we had on Bastille Day, which was also a birthday celebration for Doug Barzelay, one of Burgundy’s most knowledgeable and experienced collectors, who appropriately was born on France’s version of independence day. Eight of us gathered at the L’Hotel de Beaune, including Louis Michel Liger-Belair, one of Burgundy’s youngest shining stars.
The evening started innocently enough with a 1999 Philipponat Clos des Goisses, which had a pungent nose that was on the anise side with aromas of wet hay and citrus, but also possessing roses and minerals. It had rocket-like acidity, with rocky and racy flavors of pungent pee and wet hay. While certainly fresh, it lacked a bit of depth that I had hoped for based on the nose, but it was still an intense bubbly built for the long haul (93).
A pair of 1979 whites was the official welcome to dinner, beginning with a 1979 Ramonet Bienvenues Batard Montrachet. A clean yet tangy nose flirted with pungency, possessing good stink. Aromas of earth, mesquite and indoor cleaner resulted in a nose that was fresher than I expected. There were not yet as many mature nuances here, and the wine was more lemony and zippy. There was a hint of a cement, oak and nut mix like a faceful of sidewalk tree stump lol. Theacidity here was special, and while its flavors stayed on the pungent side, it was the clear preference and admired by all (94).
A 1979 Coche-Dury Meursaul Perrieres was unfortunately a bit corked, although it wasn’t blatant or so dominant that the wine couldn’t be evaluated a bit. There was a balance of old and new here in its earthy and yeasty nose, one balanced by warm lemon notes. Orange blossom slowly emerged, as did a BBQ stink. There were a lot of cement flavors in this ‘overpowering’ white, one that was ‘hinting at nuttiness but beyond that,’ per the Rock. Flavors of poached yellow tomatoes also joined the party in this ’79, whose acidity was still solid. Doug finally conceded its mustiness, saying ‘I thought it would clean up, but it didn’t.’ There were still some exotic and meaty flavors to this unfortunately affected bottle of Coche (92A).
Speaking of affected bottles, there were unfortunately a pair of oxidized old Ramonets, or Ramonet-Prudhons as they were back in 1962 and 1971. The 1962 Ramonet-Prudhon Batard Montrachet had one of the more offensive noses I had encountered, so much so that I was scared to even taste it. It smelled like dirty sea dock that was ready for a horror movie scene. It did taste better than it smelled, but it was clearly shot (DQ). The 1971 was not that bad, and ‘still pleasant,’ as one put it, though clearly affected and not what it woulda/coulda/shoulda. It still had a very exotic nose, yeasty but with this Galiano cake meets orange blossom honey thing happening. There were tea-like flavors in this soft and round white that had ‘lost its fruit,’ as Doug observed, but its nose continued to get more exotic and very marmelade-like. ‘Apricot jam’ and ‘a hint of basil’ were also noted in this simpler-than-it-could-have-been white, which was still ok andpalatable but affected (88A).
It was a tough start for this tough crowd. Between Doug and the Rock, praise can be difficult to come by! However, we marched on, and things would soon right themselves in dramatic fashion once we got to the reds. There was still one more white, a 1992 Lafon Montrachet, a quick emergency substitute due to all the issues with the whites. Its nose was buttery and toasty with nice perfume and ‘Georgia peach’ per our Georgia Peach of a guest. One could smell the botrytis in its sweet corn aromas, and the Rock observed how there was ‘both sur-maturite and drying qualities; I am not sure how that can be.’ I liked its smoky nose and the additional aromas of earth, caramel and lit match. The palate was round and yeasty, also a bit Botrytissed. The Rock and I got into a debate about ratings when I asked him what he would score this wine, and he said ‘89 points.’ When I scoffed at such a low score for what I would categorize as still a very good wine (92 points), albeit one on the decline, the swords were quickly drawn. ‘You’re smoking crack,’ I was told, and I countered how he was part of the ‘No Joy, No Luck Club.’ Doug is the President, by the way, lol. We quickly settled on an 89-92 rating, and the Rock convinced me to average down after accurately describing how the wine lacked that ‘excitement factor’ that he seeks. All in good fun (91).
A pair of glorious 1937s were next, beginning with a great bottle of 1937 Echezeaux. Aromas of green olives danced on a platform of ripe brown sugar and oat, combined with tomato and Worcestershire. This was a heady and saucy wine, still with sold t ‘n a in its nose. Someone noted ‘licorice’ in the nose, and benevolent ‘rubber’ on the palate. Superb brown sugar flavors graced its rich and saucy palate. Sweet, black and red cherry flavors balanced with its hearty acidity. I could see it being a touch too ripe for some, since it was so ‘hedonistic.’ I was quickly skewered for my use of the word, and despite that, everyone was in agreement that this was an outstanding and impressive bottle (95).
The 1937 Drouhin Bonnes Mares was equally as glorious, although stylistically much different. The nose was more reserved compared to the Echezeaux, although sweet cherry slowly fought through a wall of smoke, earth, freshly cut green grass, a green grass that almost flirted with honeydew. A syrup edge emerged as its nose became more cherry and more vanilla with time in the glass. While the Drouhin was not as over the top as the , the acidity was superb in this dusty delectable. Someone compared the two ‘37s to ‘chocolate cake versus a tart,’ the being the cake. It was also joked that one ‘could bring home the Bonnes Mares to Mom.’ The Rock was all over the ‘elegance’ of the Drouhin, scoring it 97 points to 94 points for the . He was wrong again 🙂 (96).
A rare pair of Liger-Belairs were next, both original bottlings, all the more special in the presence of Louis Michel Liger-Belair. First was a 1906 Liger-Belair La Romanee. The nose was great; deep yet reticent and on the black and purple side, still pungent and fresh despite being age 102. The nose morphed into aromas of mint and curry while its fruit focused into blackberry and boysenberry. Traces of spine and spice were still alive and kicking after all these years. The palate was rich but had a bit of a metallic edge at first, but it blew off into a soft, leathery edge. The acidity was still intense, and everyone was ooh-ing and aah-ing over this ancient relic. Violet and sweet black fruit flavors still sung in this citric, dusty and vibrant ’06”¦1906. The Rock summed it up, comparing the ’06 to a ‘school yard bully. It beats the crap out of everyone in its way. It’s not elegant, but it sure is powerful’ (96).
The 1921 Liger-Belair La Tache was also extraordinary, similar in style to the ’06, but a touch younger in its fruit, and also deeper. Louis Michel probably still has nightmares about his family’s decision to sell off what is now one of the most legendary wine properties in the world. Cigar and old wood aromas graced its nose, along with earth, celery, more dirt and a bit of ass. The palate has excellent concentration and tasty cherry and raspberry oil flavors in this beautiful and classy wine. Overall, the wine was softer and gentler than the La Romanee. ‘The ’06 has more profundity,’ the Rock interjected, ‘the ’21 has a few off notes.’ Doug joined in, observing, ‘volatile acidity’ in the ’21. ‘Geez, I would hate to apply to college with you two reviewing the applications,’ I replied (94).
A curious fellow, a 1909 Café Voisin Chambertin, was our last red wine of the evening, and this was a bottle brought specifically for Allen, as 1909 was one of the two vintages of the 20th century that he had not yet sampled. 1902 is the other, for those of you that want to get him a Christmas present later this year. This was more of a curiosity-killed-the-Burghound wine than something that Doug had to have, and the wine did have a bit of a maderized edge, full of paint thinner aromas but sturdy accordingly. There was lots of VA here, as well as rich, coffee sambuca and oatmeal flavors. There was still solid acidity in this rarely-seen vintage, but the wine was a bit over the top, like someone who has gone to the doctor for a bit too much plastic surgery, except in an old school Burgundy way (90).
There was one more glorious wine on this magical evening, a 1947 Rieussec, although I am not sure if any of the attendees would ever admit it, being thedevoted Burgundy worshippers that they are. Classic aromas of candle wax and honey combined with rich, nutty, creamy and delicious flavors. The finish was still dry in this sweet wine, one that also had Turkish apricot flavors as well. Yum (94).
Happy Birthday, Doug, and here are some brief observations about the rest of my days in Beaune, because if I don’t write them up here, I never will. Yes, there are thousands more just like them. I’m trying!
|1.||2002 Roulot Meursault Boucheres||(93)|
|2.||2004 P. Morey Batard Montrachet||(92+)|
|3.||2001 Roumier Bonnes Mares||(94)|
|4.||1961 Nicolas Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques||(89)|
|5.||1959 Vogue Bonnes Mares||(DQ)|
|6.||1964 Remy Chambertin||(88)|
|7.||1993 Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze||(95+)|
|8.||2004 D’Angerville Volnay Clos des Ducs||(89+)|
|9.||2000 Ponsot Clos de la Roche V.V||(89)|
|10.||2002 Coche-Dury Puligny Montrachet Enseigneres||(89A)|
|11.||2004 Coche-Dury Meursault Caillerets||(92)|
|13.||1990 Pousse d’Or Volnay Clos de la Bousse d’Or||(91)|
|14.||2000 Domaine Leflavie Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles||(93A)|
|16.||2005 Dujac Clos de la Roche||(96+)|
|17.||2004 H. Boillot Montrachet||(93)|
|18.||2006 Fourrier Gevrey Chambertin Clos St. Jacques||(88)|
Dinner with Frederic Drouhin (gonna try to write that one up separately)
All the 2007 Liger-Belairs
A bunch of 2006 whites including Niellon Batard Montrachet
So, where to begin”¦
Let’s start with the 2006 whites. I was most impressed by this mini-assortment the Don treated me too, having had no experience with the vintage. We had at least six or seven premier crus, from one of Pierre Yves Colin’s St. Aubins to Marc’s Chassagne, a new Moreau, a Colin-Deleger, and others, ending with the Niellon. I didn’t take notes, but my memory still servesme correctly in that I found all of these wines to be clean, refreshing, tasty and moderately age-able. It reminded me of something I like to say often: ‘great producers make great wine every year; some years you just want to drink sooner.’ I think 2006 might last a little bit longer and offer more joy than most people think, given the enormous shadow that 2005 has cast upon it. Checka check ‘em out.
How about the 2007 reds? It seems to be the consensus that this will be a tough vintage for Burgundy, but again, the top of the pyramid will prove enjoyable and quality. The barrel tasting at Liger-Belair was impressive, to say the least, especially given all the different properties being managed and bottled. Louis Michel’s commitment to quality and drive to be one of Burgundy’s most significant estates is clearly self-evident, and given his youthful age, significant land holdings and access, and significant training and schooling, I think he will be one of the shining stars in Burgundy for my generation. It’s like when you see on Billboard’s ‘Top 40’ chart, ‘with a bullet.’ That could very well describe Louis Michel’s rapid ascension into the ranks of Burgundy’s elite producers.
Of the others, most of the scores are self-evident; the ‘A’ffected wines were both slightly corked, and the ’02 Coche disappointing (or just overly masked), as I am a big fan of their Puligny”¦have to try that one again!
There are two wines that I will share my full notes on”¦the Dujac and the Kola”¦.just because.
The 2005 Dujac Clos de la Roche was an interesting follow-up, as 05s would have it, to the 2005 Ponsot Clos de la Roche that we had out of magnum in Switzerland. Whoa! I know that drinking a magnum of that is infanticide, but when there are no bottles and only one magnum on a wine list, and the magnum is priced the same as bottles are already trading (and there are sixthirsty guests with us), what’s a wine lover to do? Drink the damn thing before someone else does, that’s what! The Ponsot was so concentrated and thick, brimming with every possible fruit imaginable that it felt X-rated just smelling it. However, on the palate, at least out of magnum, it was very shutdown and closed already and difficult to evaluate, although there was no doubting its potential greatness. I have to admit I felt bad about opening it, but then again, if I didn’t, someone else would have :). Ok, back to the Dujac”¦this was much more classic in its expression, its blackberry fruit mixing with the earth, the leather, the spice, the citrus and the rust. The blend of earth, pitch and spice were tremendous. The palate also had great definition, lip-smackingly good, with very defined acidity and fresh, balanced hints of citrus, green bean and mahogany spice. This was super stuff, already bordering on legendary. The nose was deep, deep inside, deep deep down inside (that’s for all you house music fans). Blackberry and cola joined the party, and the palate was so expressive, just popping out of its pants. Special stuff, and it will be sure to climb the point ladder in time (96+).
The 1864 Kola was something old, odd and rare dug up by the Rock. It was a Burgundy shaped bottle, and it barely had a label, just 1864 Kola in practically calligraphy on a small strip, very old in appearance and nature. What was inside was a glorious Madeira, but was it real Madeira, or actually Pinot gone wild? Perhaps the original recipe for Coca-Cola? Well, all that we will never know, but it was damn good, whatever it was, basically a Malmsey-style Madeira, thick and syrupy in its nose with aromas of baked, brown-sugared beans and sweet raisins. It was a definite sinus-cleaner, with a rainbow of nut aromas and flavors, macadamia meeting molasses. The owner of Ma Cuisine observed, ‘C’est bon, a little sweet but the alcohol (is impressive)”¦’ It was so rich, so concentrated and so full of alcohol, incredibly delicious, both hearty and soft at the same time, and a slice of history that will most likely never be seen again. Thanks to the Rock for that one (95).
Burgundy was beautiful, breathtaking for its scenery, wines and people behind them. I can’t believe it took me so long to visit. I will be back soon.
In Vino Veritas,